A long Heavy Ice out-take here, and a shorter one under the cut. Merry Christmas!
Kallisty strolled out into the gloom, sliding one friendly hand into the crook of Ushantih’s arm. “Need to talk to you, Ushantih.”
“Need to talk to you, too,” Ushantih returned, and the muscles in his arm were tense under her hand, and that made her know something was wrong, though she couldn’t tell what. “You want to try to direct milord Idrian back onto Riverbank-erosion or something? He’s been giving people predictions of how much they’ll get from the salvage.”
“Oh,” said Kallisty, seeing exactly why that would catch Idrian’s mathematically-inclined interest, and also exactly why it was a bad idea to let it carry on. She didn’t really care if her riders gambled away their share before it was paid them, but she did care if they blamed Idrian for it afterwards.
Ushantih’s hand closed over hers, comfortingly, making her think there was another option for her sleeping arrangements after all. “No one’s going to get any ideas about milord Idrian. Not with you and me around to look after him.”
“‘Preciate it,” said Kallisty gruffly.
Ushantih let her walk in silence for just long enough that she would have relaxed, if she’d been walking with anyone but Ushantih. She waited the space of a breath. He didn’t speak. She swore at him, and nipped the skin of the back of his hand with her fingernails. “Ushantih-bastard. What?”
“Idrian’s got a point about the salvage.” Ushantih’s fingers danced a nervous pressure under hers. “Listen to me, b’rin. If we dump the lot on the market at Rivantia, it’ll only depress the price, and your uncle Denali will try to take more than his share. If we sell it off here and there, a little at one Spire and a little at the next…”
“We’ll see the lot impounded at the second Spire where we try it,” said Kallisty flatly. “Makers talk to each other.”
They walked past Idrian, who was sitting cross-legged on a leather cloak with his head bent over his weather-station and a plate of boiled crayfish going cold beside him. Kallisty shook her head. “Most Makers talk to each other,” she amended. “Who cooked this stuff? Don’t they know what it does to Idrian’s guts when he eats anything that wears its skeleton on the outside?”
“He’s not a little boy any more, b’rin, you can’t run round mothering him.”
“I’m not mothering him. If I was mothering him, I wouldn’t mind dealing with his digestive issues. It’s because I do mind that I don’t want him eating River-crawlers.”
Idrian looked up. “Go away, Kallisty, I’m working. You can leave Ushantih if you like, he knows what an equation is.”
Kallisty reached down and picked up the plate of crayfish. “I know what an equation is. It’s a big imaginary line on a map of the world.”
“Go away,” said Idrian again, and bent his head back to the weather-station as if he could make Kallisty disappear just by shutting her out of his field of attention.
Ushantih took the crayfish away from her. She wondered whether he was planning on trading it with somebody. “I’ll make sure he gets something to eat that he can eat, b’rin. Only – just have a thought about what I said, will you? If you take that salvage back to Rivantia, you’ll be walking into a trap.”
Kallisty turned on her heels, looking round at the lights on the horizon; the Spires, near and distant, none of which were hers.
“If I take it anywhere else, I’ll be walking into a noose,” she said harshly. “Rivantia it is.”